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Kempthorne Seeks North-South Highway

by Patricia R. McCoy
Capital Press, January 14, 2005

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne wants to connect North and South Idaho with a safe, multilane highway system, and pay for it with revenue bonds.

The governor called for major highway construction during his combined State of the State and Budget message to Idaho legislators Monday night, saying every county in the state would benefit from it.

Grain producers applauded the announcement.

"Enhancing our ability to move grain, whether it's to the Port of Lewiston, or to feedlots in Southern Idaho, would be a really huge benefit to our producers. Right now, transportation consumes at least a third of a grower's gross revenue on every bushel of barley or wheat," said Steve Johnson, executive director of the Idaho Grain Producers Association.

The IGPA has no position on paying for highway construction with revenue bonds, also called Garvee Bonds. The organization's board meets this month, and will likely establish policy on the issue at that time, Johnson said.

Kempthorne pointed out in his speech that Idaho has issued revenue bonds to build highways seven times in its history.

"The state will issue the bonds, and the principle, interest and other costs will be paid off by using future federal highway dollars. This will have no impact on the state General Fund, nor our bond rating, and will still allow for construction and maintenance projects on the Idaho Transportation Department's priority list," he said.

"Over the course of the next 10 years, we're going to build three decades' worth of highways. I'm proposing we invest $1.6 billion, and we do it now. It's time we stop talking and start building," Kempthorne said.

As expected, Kempthorne called for passage of the proposed Nez Perce Settlement, a major hurdle in concluding the Snake River Basin Adjudication.

"One of the major issues for years has been the SRBA, which determines water rights throughout much of Idaho. When completed, this will be the largest adjudication ever in the United States," the governor said.

"When I first took office, I made it clear that I would not support any negotiations in the SRBA involving the Nez Perce Tribe and the water users that did not protect our state sovereignty and existing water rights. The historic agreement we announced last May in Idaho with Interior Secretary Gale Norton affirms those principles. Over the past five years, and at times when it looked like negotiations were at an impasse, I urged all sides to return to the table often in my office," he said.

"I told the water users when they reached an agreement I would take it to the White House and Capitol Hill. They did their part, and I did mine," he said.

Congress and President Bush have approved the agreement. Millions in federal dollars have been set aside for Idaho and are waiting for the state Legislature to act, the governor said.

"I'm proud of what we've accomplished. I'm proud to have stood with the water users, the Speaker and the Pro Tem as well as many of you here tonight to announce the agreement. Here's what we've achieved: Sovereignty, certainty and the opportunity for Idaho to chart its own water destiny. This is a solution reached by water users. Listen to them and ratify this agreement," he said.

ESPA Negotiations

Kempthorne also touched on negotiations between groundwater and surface water rights holders in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer, promising that a solution will be found "by continuing our collective efforts and working together."

The governor also spoke of renovating and upgrading the state Capitol, on which construction began in 1905.

"The only part of the statehouse that has fire sprinklers is the area that caught fire several years ago (a North wing housing the attorney general's office). If you have a heart attack or any sort of a medical emergency, the paramedics' gurney will not fit into either of the small, outdated elevators. There are no emergency exits. We spend a lot of money promoting high technology and equipping state government with the latest tools to improve efficiency and constituent service. Yet those modern computers are plugged into 1917 wiring," he said.

"I really hesitate to go on with the safety problems that exist because of the liability it raises," Kempthorne said, bringing laughter from the crowd in the House chamber where he spoke.

Legislative committees meet in such small hearing rooms that would-be listeners are often forced to stand in the hallways, for lack of space. More room is available in the state annex building, the old Ada County Courthouse immediately east of the Capitol, which was acquired by the state about a year ago, he said.

"In good conscience, we can't put this off any longer. I propose tonight that we do the necessary restoration and safety upgrades of this building," he said.

Continuing the current rate on the state's cigarette tax and redirecting those monies to the Permanent Building Fund will pay for that project, he said.

The governor presented lawmakers with a state budget of $2.2 billion for fiscal 2006.

As required by the Idaho Constitution, it is balanced, and projects a $117 million surplus in the current fiscal year.

Patricia R. McCoy, Capital Press Staff Writer
Kempthorne Seeks North-South Highway
Capital Press, January 14, 2005

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